Chief data officer

Why healthcare organizations need to hire more chief data officers as we exit the pandemic

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    Meg Buchanan
  • Jun 10, 2021

Healthcare is digitizing, fast. Here’s how a chief data officer can help synchronize, strategize, and manage the data across your healthcare organization to keep patient and employee information safe as we transition from COVID-19 into what comes next.

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It’s nearly summer 2021, and the world is finally beginning to feel like it’s opening up again in more ways than just mask restrictions and social distancing protocols. But even as the world returns to some level of normalcy, some things are never going back to the way it was before. 

For healthcare specifically, that’s both positive in that there are more opportunities for digitization both within organizations and for patients, and also challenging because of the increased risk around fraud and cyber-attacks with patient and health system data. 

In order to regulate this increase in digital adoption across the industry, healthcare organizations should consider recruiting a key role to help manage data within their organizations. Here’s why healthcare organizations need to hire more chief data officers as we exit the pandemic. 

The changing landscape of healthcare

There’s no shortage of data that demonstrates the increase and benefit of digital adoption in the healthcare space during COVID-19. 

In a recently published study from Ernst and Young, among the over 2,100 surveyed during the pandemic, video consults quadrupled from 5 to 19 percent while telephone consults more than doubled from 11 to 24 percent. And for nearly 70 percent of those patients, a conversation over the phone was just as satisfactory as having an appointment in person.

And with the world opening up, it still remains to be seen how many in-person consultations we will go back to, or frankly, really need. Similarly, during the pandemic, many healthcare providers were able to integrate their work to more remote and virtual solutions. As these individuals return to work, it’s also important that the data they had access to remotely is secure in this shift. 

The case for developing a data department

In the flux of new digital solutions and technologies for both patients and employees alike, the data that flows across these platforms and solutions can easily be lost in transition. 

And while the word data in it itself is a bit nebulous, in actual practice, data is where the future of work is headed in the value it provides to an organization’s workflow and customer experience. 

In this, it’s not just a piece of a particular program or system, but rather deserving of its own department. Organizations that make business and hiring decisions around developing their own data departments will be better prepared in the long run. 

Healthcare, in particular, can benefit from developing hiring around this practice to help mitigate risk around data management with returning to hospitals as well as better managing new opportunities for future digitalization.

Enter the Chief Data Officer

A Chief Data Officer (CDO) can help manage both the risks and opportunities around these business decisions. This role not only creates and defines a strategy around data management for present business needs but also has the forethought around where an organization’s data can provide value into the future. 

Since the first CDO role was created back in the early aughts, there’s been a lot of confusion as to what the role does or the value it provides. To help summarize that value, Eckerson Group put together several core responsibilities a CDO should provide to be successful in their role. Below we use those responsibilities to guide how these functions could specifically enable health systems to work smarter with the data within their own organizations.

Develop business value 

  • In general: Analyzing, optimizing, and utilizing data for current and future business opportunities
  • For healthcare organizations: Tracking existing patient data or employee data to poke holes and improve patient engagement processes. For example, this noise-reduction data study that drove better patient outcomes at a Northwell Health hospital.

Create a culture around data collaboration

  • In general: Encourage employees across the organization to be thinking about how using data can improve business processes. Create a culture that supports this collaborative effort and encourages employees to come to the data and analytics department with their ideas.
  • For healthcare organizations: Just like solving a medical case might require several specialists to work together, sharing data across departments makes an organization stronger and smarter. We’ve seen this during the pandemic with industries partnering together to improve public vaccination rates around the world. 

Make data more accessible internally

  • In general: CDOs support IT by providing other business units access to enterprise data without going through their information technology department while also making sure the data shared is protected and safeguarded against potential phishing attempts. 
  • For healthcare organizations: Healthcare is an industry that leads with urgency given that there are truly times access to information is a life or death scenario. Having a department devoted to quickly and safely retrieving data drives patient outcomes but also improves customer service, an area that healthcare has traditionally been slower with, given the urgency around patient care.

Protect data 

  • In general: A critical function of a CDO’s role is protecting business data against phishing and fraudulent activity. This includes adhering to regulatory compliance as well as providing awareness about updated processes around security improvements throughout an organization.
  • For healthcare organizations: This is particularly important in healthcare where patient privacy is of utmost importance. A data breach within a health system could have extreme ramifications to patient safety and thus, hospital trust. With a CDO on staff, an additional layer of security is added to healthcare organizations preparing to transition from remote work and virtual appointments in a post-COVID world.

Improve data quality

  • In general: CDOs should also be concerned with the quality of data at their disposal which is directly linked to business value and risk. According to Eckerson, this quality control goes hand-in-hand with making investments in data management and committing to data governance as a business responsibility.
  • For healthcare organizations: Hoarding data with no regulation or quality control is a recipe for data breach risk. As healthcare organizations figure out the next steps beyond the pandemic, evaluating the quality of data alongside this transition will help make the shift more seamless. Using cloud communication to reach out to patients to update their information as more in-person appointments (such as in the instance of St. Luke’s vaccine-related Shot-Line) become available is a great way to multi-task and improve data quality alongside the patient experience.  

Promote ethical data usage

  • In general: The management of ethical data isn’t as black and white as the other responsibilities of a CDO but in many ways, is one of the most important aspects of the job. Appropriate use of customer and employee data is the foundation of digital trust. Misusing this information is both a breach of customer confidence and many times, illegal. The CDO should be the spokesperson for the ethical use of company data and keep both employees and customers in the loop as new technology emerges and how the company is using its services. 
  • For healthcare organizations: Similar to protecting patient data, using HIPAA compliance to improve engagement and outcomes is crucial to healthcare continuing to digitize and establishing trust within the industry around using new technologies.

Healthcare data management: The long game

As we exit the pandemic, treating data as its own entity to be managed, analyzed, and protected is a critical element to the healthcare industry’s journey into digital adoption. Chief Data Officers can help synchronize and manage this transition across your organization as well as strategize the best way to use data to provide a better, smarter, and more trusted digital healthcare experience into the future.

Building trust

Learn more about establishing and creating customer confidence in your organization in The Current’s latest edition on digital trust.

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Meg Buchanan

Meg Buchanan is a Colorado native, a Kansas Jayhawk, and a proud multi-tasking millennial. As Twilio's Content Marketing Manager, she has more than seven years of experience writing for both agencies and in-house brands on topics from healthcare to hospitality.